Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men-- as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
I have been studying this passage and note that nothing in it is just something that the average person would want to do. For example, 'do not murder' is a simple command, and one that the majority would agree is a reasonable, and easy to follow command. It takes a little discipline, as most murder is through poor temper control, so tempers need to be addressed, but these verses are somewhat different. This is a decision type goal that we have to take, one without what may appear to be a rational reason. We just have to follow these words. Certainly the truths contained here need to be understood, but there is little to assist in understanding such a truth in the 21st century in this passage. For example, 'be submissive to you masters with all fear. also to the harsh'. It is truth that is hard to understand, hard to be motivated by. Another example that would highlight this is: 'But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God'. Even though the we can see that God will commend us, it is not an easy swallow. However, the passage is absolute in its instructions without really telling us how to achieve this level of acceptance of submission and humble behaviour towards people, not just in the church - our own brothers and sisters, but of the world. We need to understand that despite all the teachings to the contrary we see in the world around us, God wants us to have a submissive humble heart, which is expressed in how we respond to others. This can only come through a change in behaviour, that begins with a decision to work on this difficult discipline, to be able to assess where the goal is not being met, and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, in allowing Christ to live within, and cloak the external, helping to block the sinful desire of opposing the principles of humbleness, meekness and submission.
Personal experience of the world view, our TV's, newspapers and classrooms tells us that we need to be aware of our rights, to fight for our rights, to seek justice, preferably justice that favours us, and to oppose bad leaders. This passage tells us the opposite, in fact to embrace that which may seem harsh, and to submit to those in authority over us. There are no exceptions given. The reason given is altruistic in its most pure form - God finds it commendable, and Christ lived it. It also provides the explanation that once we were lost, but now are saved by the great Shepherd who modelled this behaviour. I think that this type of teaching is difficult fare, but one that has to be grasped and the Christian has to step out in faith, putting behind the values the world teaches and trusting that God will keep us and provide us with peace of the heart, despite the circumstances. One has to make the decision that next time a boss seems unfair, or when an imposed suffering is wrong. The decision is against our nature - we must put ourselves under the authority of the wielder of power, trusting implicitly in God, and through strength from God. This is not an action that has five steps, it is one of pure faith. Yes, it is based on knowing God, trusting God, placing oneself under God's hand, but it is a decision that has to be deliberately made, to be the peacemaker, the servant.
We need to be aware of our own response to such situations, and determine if our submission is through the consciousness of knowing God, or a self defiance that 'you won't break me', or a false submission, doing the task, but seething inside, expressing the anger elsewhere. We have to take the deliberate decision for a Godly expression of humbleness, and recognise when it is not. Submission is through a conscious desire for God and to do His will. It must not be a decision of ego, creating a false humility, a self motivated stoicism. This is hypocrisy. Some people can be stoical in a situation, without submission. It is a human trait, and one related to self concepts of self worth, and ones' own strength. Therefore, the we have to understand that submission is not possible if we try and do it ourselves.
And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:10-13
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. Romans 13:13-14
This is where the understanding has to be based, to reach the decision for submission. No other way is possible, otherwise, it is man's effort, and the hypocrisy will seep through. Being a person who has Christ in them and Christ over them some authors using the words, cloak, is the only way of fulfilling the Peter passage. Isaiah 59:16,17 tells us this, as a living example that was played out exactly as prophesied:
He saw that there was no man, And wondered that there was no intercessor; Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him. For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; . And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
Our zeal in allowing Christ to live through us is what will bring salvation to those that may be acting unfairly, unjustly, or even causing wrongful suffering. Submission should be about bringing the perpetrator to the Lord through the example of Christ being lived through our lives, not as a means to seek protection, or release from suffering. We have of course the perfect example in Scripture about this, and well summarised in Isaiah 53: 1-9:
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked--But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
The whole point Peter is making is to be Christ like, no matter the fairness of the attitudes or actions against us by whomever in our lives, be it government, workplace people, friends, or even family. Isaiah in this passage shows Christ suffering and remaining silent. Silence was His testimony to the unbelievers, the way of His Father. The passage shows that Christ knew that he was to suffer and die before he even put aside His glory and came to earth as man. It was an absolute decision making process, that we see followed through by our Saviour for us, even, or especially with His foreknowledge of events to come. We have no idea about what may befall us, and in fact, our lives may be quite easy compared to many others in the world, so even if we make a decision to live 1 Peter 2:13-25, we are not even coming close to the decision that Christ made. After all, our suffering is only our own and a few around us, His suffering was for the whole world, and every sin that was, that had been and is to come. There are powerful human examples, such as the story of 'The Heavenly Man' Liu Zhenying, known as Brother Yun. We may think of Brother Andrew in Russia, though his story is more about doing something against a government and suffering for his faith. I am not sure if any of you have read or know of the massacre of five Amish school girls in the Nickel Mines school (2 October 2006). The community's Christlike attitude in forgiveness and support to those that harmed them was phenomenal. It is a story that makes one weep as one sees a group who can submit and forgive despite the worst of circumstances, setting aside the Amish context, focusing on the Christlike response.
Peter is not the only book that talks of this. Romans chapter 13 starts in much the same vein as Peter:
Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that does evil. Why you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually on this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.
Note the reference to God being in control, as well as the reference to paying your taxes? So God provides two absolute same instructions from two different authors to make His point. He is saying, I am in control, no matter what you think you are seeing. No matter the ruler and their evil, I have a reason. However in 1 Timothy 2:2-4 God also offers us a solution to our problems with rulers:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.
Prayer, that is talking to God, may not change the circumstance, but will give you peace of heart, enable you to meet His standards, despite all else. This is a matter of pure faith. Take Jeremiah at this juncture as a good example of this point, the Jews are in captivity, 1000 kilometres from home, and Jeremiah says: And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray to the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace (29:7). What have we got to complain about, yet the truth is the same for us in our own current easy lives.
So, what does it mean to me in every day life? What is it in your life that may stop you from making the decision to take on these verses and apply them to your lives? What are the things that I have to do to overcome these barriers? Here we need to get personal. The only way to move towards Peter's exultation is to know where we are at in the our hearts, then comprehend where we might be, with God's help and strength. With His help we need to act with the required spiritual disciplines of holiness, humbleness, meekness and Christlikeness that these verses require in totality. We know where we are, every time we think of someone that has a position of authority, or responsibility, and they make a statement, or hold a position we don't absolutely hold to. It may be husband, police officer, even a pastor or elder, and especially a politician. Where do we sit, and what is the barrier that stops us submitting, but instead reacting instead by being offended, or vocal, or down putting?
This morning we have focused on submission, no matter the circumstances, as we read in the opening verses: Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God. God says to submit, even if submission is unfair, or even very painful. We have found that human nature does not submit too easily, even in the best of times, and we are very unlikely in our own free will to do so when it appears to be to our disadvantage, or unfair.
Each one of us therefore, will need to take these verses, and the illustration of the perfect example of submission, and make a formal dedicated decision to follow the teachings of the Bible. Each time a situation is at hand, we need to recall these verses, pray for strength to follow God's will, and submit to God, through submitting to the ruler, boss, or other being that is the situation. Without prayer, and without the focus being on submission to God, not man, and to God's Word, as found in these Peter verses, we will not be found doing so. If we do so consciously, in prayer, with God as the focus, the joy through serving Him, and doing His will, becomes our focal point, and though there may be physical pain, we will have spiritual ascendency and peace within our hearts; a knowledge of, and being in, communion with God.
I leave you two quotes, one from man, the other God:
"I find the doing of the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans." George Macdonald, 1877.
Follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith. That you keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy 6:11,12, 14.